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Minimalism in Recording - How many tracks is enough?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by jshryock, Jan 27, 2004.

  1. jshryock

    jshryock Guest

    I've been reading some recently about people who are really dissatisfied with the number of tracks people are using nowadays. They say that the art of good mic placement and tracking is lost. Too much close miking and too many mics. In particular, I'm thinking about drums. I could use 4 mics (2 overheads, kick, snare) or I could use 8, (2 overheads, kick, snare, toms x 3, hi-hat or room mic).

    What do you think about overusage of microphones nowadays? I think for now, I should really just learn how to rock the studio with the 9 mics I have. Here's what I've got, by the way:

    * (1) Studio Projects C-1
    * (2) Shure SM81
    * (2) Shure SM57
    * (2) Shure SM58
    * (2) Shure Beta57A
    * (1) Shure Beta52A

    I think that what's limiting my recording quality right now isn't my equipment (protools le 6.1, digi002r, mackie 1604vlz, above mics), but ME... I need to learn more about proper mic placement and such. Buying more stuff won't help much right now, plus I can't afford it.

    What do you all think? Any comments appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. Clueless

    Clueless Guest

    Once upon a time, I thought "hey, it's been 10 years since I last bought studio gear...this time it's going to be different. I'm going to go minimal." I got a MOTU setup (Dual G4 Mac + Digital Performer + 2408 analog/digital I/O), UAD-1 card (for a decent in-the-box channel strip), a Mackie 1604 for preamps and a pair of Mackie 624s for monitors. I also bought a Rode NTK, AKG TL-II, and a Shure M58 for good luck. Not a shabby system for starters...I'd guess $10K when all was said and done.

    Maybe I didn't spend long enough at it, but I did spend months trying to get vocals, acoustic guitar and bass to sound at all like the $10K I spent on that gear. No dice.

    Now, perhaps I am, as my handle suggests, Clueless, but after much lurking and reading of various lists and reviews, I took a huge plunge and fingered my 1604 as the weakest link. I replaced it with a Midas Venice console (at about 3x or 4x the price) and ShaZZAM!. It was like wipping the acoustical fog off the metaphorical bathroom mirror!

    This epiphany has had disasterous consequences: I have yet to find the law of diminishing returns. I have started buying single preamps that cost more than a 1604, single EQ channels that cost nearly as much and dual EQ channels that cost more than twice as much. And compressors? Don't get me started.

    That's not to say that art isn't being lost amongst the technology or that a long-term consequence of so many home studios is that fewer and fewer people are sharing techniques in a shared studio, but man is there some nice gear out there. And little by little, I'm going to buy it all :p

    (Dead Link Removed)

    P.P.S. Also, I agree 100% that good room treatment and good monitors are a must. I've spend over $1000 on fixing my room, and am about to spend many $1000 on some decent monitors--all because I'd rather work with, rather than fight, the qualities of my gear.
     
  3. Midlandmorgan

    Midlandmorgan Active Member

    FWIW (very little I'm afraid...)

    In the middle of recording a killer jazz trio, and we all agreed that this setup worked the best:

    - RE20 on kick
    - A51 Series III pair on stereo OHs
    - AT4051 and DI from upright bass
    - stereo DI from keyboard
    - AT4040, Oktave 319 (modified), or Shre Beta 87A on keyboard vocalist...

    Everyone played at once...no overdubs.

    5 mics, 3 DIs ... there is some leakage, but so what? It seems that the a little leakage pulls everything together, and makes it sound like a group instead of a bunch of isolated parts trying to fit in to the sonics of the project.

    There are many resources for micing tips...one thing I found VERY helpful was locating a book from the late 60s/early 70s on mic placement...These publications showed how to maximize placement in consideration to other instruments in the room, maximizing timbre, etc...

    Ken
     
  4. UncleBob58

    UncleBob58 Active Member

    I guess I'm one of those guilty of over-micing. However, it's not usually by choice. I like the control it gives me at mix down to help fix the inadequacies of the bozos who frequent the studios where I freelance. Also, those studios usually have much less than perfect acoustics, too much bleed and mediocre players who have to overdub because they can't get it right on the first place. These same idiots hate using gobos, for some reason I can never figure out. They also have to play crushingly loud.

    Another consideration is the time/budget factor. Most clients do not want to spend the time, especially with drums in a band situation, to get that "minimal" great drum sound. (LONG LIVE JOHN BONHAM!!!)

    On the flip side, when recording a solo acoustic guitar, I love lots of mics so there are plenty of options at mix time. I never use it all, but it sure is nice to have the options available.

    :p:
     
  5. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

    Not that I'm any kind of authority whittling away at home, but the most satisfaction I get is when I simply set up to mics as a stereo pair, try to find the best place in the room for them and hit the red button-- when it works out. When it don't, it's better luck next time. That would be two tracks then.

    I want to get the right kind of mics (and better preamps) to try "decca tree" recording, I guess that makes three tracks.

    Normally I can get "music" with with anywhre from 6 to 16 tracks but usually 16 is overkill for me, 12 is about the most I need for the most complicated things I do-- that would be midi-ized synths (two tracks), real drums on four tracks, stereo bass (two tracks), Vocals (two tracks), Guitar (two tracks). The synths often get deleted as they are created to be simply better than click tracks to jam along with, and extra percussion is added or more guitar or vocals or some of each along the same tracks depending on the structure of the tune. That's a lot of tracks for me.

    I guess I won't be recording Britanny Spears anytime soon.
     
  6. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    I used to do layers upon layers in my own projects but over the years I've come to the realization that yes, less is more(more often than not)- Now I'll lay down 6-7 tracks of drums, bass, rhythm guitar all in one pass- then I'll overdub lead guitar and keyboards if needed- and I mead keyboard, not layer upon layers of differnt patches! Just because they are there does't mean they have to be used- My only indulgence is vocals- I'll do 4-6 tracks of lead vocals and comp down to one- I do that because I feel recording is an art and we should get down the best performance out of the singer and usually there are subtle differences in phrasing in the different takes that makes a difference in the overall vocal sound- backing vocals I usually do two takes and comp the two, which is usually adecuate.
     
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Q:How many tracks is enough?

    A: All of em.....


    Read between the lines to understand the point.

    For me...its the bigness of each sound.The bigger the tonality of each individual instrument at tracking, the easier it is to fill up all the sonic space and not lose the feel and the quality of the song when fitting it all together.

    So, its BIG GUITARS...I like to get a single guitar, be it acoustic(usually)or electric down with kind of a scratchy itchy sorta thing...this is my bed track for all the other guitars(usually several)..Then I'll get one or two rhythm guitars down.These will have the BIG SOUND stamp on them and in order to get them out of each others way, I'l play the same figure on two different guitars or I'll play the same figure with the same guitar except that I'll capo up on one and play it in a different fingering giving it a different set of harmonics.Then theres the feature guitar.This one will have its own take if its in there at all.These can all be mono tracks though I'm kinda partial to stereo for the feature though I may not use it at mixdown.The theres the LARGE BASS.This thing covers a lot of territory as well it should since it has the power to move everything around.Drums are taken as the song dictates, but I like to use both LD and SD condensers in the overheads and get only snare(upper and lower) and kick(inside and outside) by themselves.This gives me much more control and the LD's are more like room mics though they are in the overheads.Some songs they are all I use with only the outside kick mic.
    Vocals should be up close and personal.I usually use two vocal mics at once and phase them accordingly I'll use mics that have different characteristics and print them both.I do not use EQ,compression or any other artifact at tracking for vocals.I will use a pre and go direct to disk on thiese and one the BIG GUITARS.

    So how many tracks are enough.No more than sound requires.Simple arrangements always result in a hugeness of sound.
     
  8. Skeetch

    Skeetch Guest

    Just finished reading the TapeOp interview with Andy Johns. Fascinating! Two Beyer M160's to get the famous/infamous "Levee" drum sound. I've only within the last year had a setup capable of recording more than 8 tracks at a time so I'm used to working with fewer tracks and actually prefer it if the client is willing.
     
  9. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    I heard of that before but have never tried it, caping up and playing with a different fingering... gonna do it :D :D
     
  10. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    It's not quite as simple as two M160's, though...there's also the space, of course, and more importantly, John Bonham. Minimalist microphone setups are great, but moreso than the skills of the engineer you really need a good drummer who knows something about balance. Not to mention good cymbals and well-tuned drums...

    Overall, I don't think there's an answer for this one. There are styles of music for which a hundred tracks are not only appropriate, but necessary. There are styles of music that wouldn't sound good with only two or three (or one) microphones on the kit, regardless of the skill of the drummer. For many of today's pop styles, the drums just wouldn't sound right without that "in-your-face" sound of a microphone (or two) on every drum and maybe even every cymbal. But there are also styles of music where less really is more, and it's typically those styles of music where you're going for a more natural sound...there's nothing natural about the sound of a microphone on every drum, or two inches away from the speaker on a Marshall...

    -Duardo
     
  11. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member

    I'll agree with the "no right or wrong answer" philosophy expressed here, although good results are easier to achieve (at least for me) mixwise with fewer tracks. I had the good fortune to study under a guy who was with Capitol Records from when the company started, and we did lots of big band stuff to 2 tracks, but there were plenty of mics and channels used. Mixing was on the fly. That's all there was in the old days. But the difference was the players were all first rate and it wasn't uncommon to spend half a day on mic placement and level setting before rolling tape. BTW, why not 3 mics for drums? 2 OH (81's) and kick. Put the OH in front of kit about waist high and 3 or 4ft back (helps balance cymbals and drums).
     
  12. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    I guess the question really is... are you using those tracks to realize an artistic goal or are you using those tracks to try to compensate for a lacking skill?

    In the former you use the tracks you need to get the sound that you are hearing in your head... as davedog was talking about... no more or less than what you need.

    In the latter you record a guitar with the intent that it should sound huge but instead it sounds thin and small and lifeless... so you think to yourself "well, i'll just record more guitar tracks until it sounds bigger." well... i can tell you from the experience of my own ineptitude that what you end up with sounds like a number of thin crappy guitar tracks... NOT one big nice guitar track...

    If a track doesn't sound good you have to keep trying until it does... not double up on bad tracks.

    However, if your artistic goal requires you to have multiple tracks then you shouldn't think of yourself as less of a recordist for using what you need.

    greg
     
  13. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    Back in my day ... another old geezer post.

    The number of tracks depends on how many instruments you have. Do you need 14 drum tracks? definitely not, but is it good to have separate mics on each element in the set? yes. I have seen drum setups with 24 mics - that's truly overkill.

    I have seen engineers put three mics on a snare (top, side & bottom, flop the phase on the bottom mic) plus overhead and room mics. Not necessary. One mic strategically placed will get a great snare sound everytime.

    I tended NOT to use an overhead pair or room mic because the cymbal mics picked up enough leakage. That's just me. I always reduced the number of mics down to 4 to 6 tracks, though: kick, snare, and Drums L&R. (which was usually a combo of all the tom and cymbal mikes panned into place).

    I worked with a few musicians & engineers who were there for Led Zep, Bad Company and other recordings, and I met Andy Johns. I'm not sure I believe everything they say to the magazines. I heard plenty of stories about empty theaters and shotgun mics to add to Bonham's sound.

    Anyway - to the original question and your list of mics. You should keep them all for drums, and have at least ONE great vocal mic that you use for almost everything else. The only mic that I own personally anymore is my U-67, and it gets used on everything. I'm just a geezer doing home recording now, so the drums are all digital.

    The U-67 is great on practically everything: vocals, percussion, horns... any solo instrument. Even guitar amps where I would use a shure close up and the 67 for a distance mic.

    The only thing I am looking for now is a great tube limiter for the punch I need. Then that is all I need.
     
  14. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Welcome to our forum cruisemates...Any 'Old Geezer' views on things are acceptable here.Theres a lot of Geezers around here so enjoy.Only one tube type limiter eh??

    Go here http://www.tube-tech.com
    or http://www.thermionicculture.com
    or http://www.dwfearn.com
     
  15. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    "Only one tube type limiter eh?? "

    All I have is my little home studio for fun anymore. I have my one microphone and that's it. I write the songs and play all the instruments.

    It does bring up a whole new conversation (for the other forum) about how much the studio business has changed. In my day hardly anyone could afford a home studio, and demos were our bread and butter. Not now obviously. But there are other differences, too. Like now it is so much easier to market your own music.
     
  16. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Just one? I couldn't live just one of anything yet alone comps & limiters.

    For punch it's hard to pass up the 1176 or the newer dual 1176 or the Studio Electronics version of the 1176 with the Neve 1272 output driver. For a more multipurpose and yet still punch, the dbx 160SL or the cheaper and brand new 162SL.

    For tube I'd have to say the Manley Vari-Mu or the Pendulum Vari-Mu or the Atomic Squeeze box.
     
  17. doctorfish

    doctorfish Guest

    I remember when my first band recorded for the first time in a real studio. The guitar player kept on thinking about six tracks of guitar for every song. But in the end it usually wound up as two or three after much thought about what was really needed and where all the different parts were.

    People often get carried away with so many available tracks in DAW's and such that they think they have to keep going until it's all full regardless of wheather or not it's really helping the song much. Too many tracks can actually make people a little lazy if they always figure they can just add another track.

    Like the others said, as many as you need wheather it's 8 or 64. In my own music I've peaked around 20, but I'm usually down around 16.

    Dave
     
  18. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    Regarding guitar tracks and minimalism> (works for other instruments as well). I usually think in terms of 2 tracks for guitar (L&R), and if they are different they are stereo, but if they contain the same info the result is center mono. It makes mixing a breeze.

    For example. I will track a lead (crunch) guitar on two tracks originally, either with a stereo chorus (panned L&R) which makes it stereo, or without one which means it comes up in the center.

    When the lead solo, or various other sections of the song, require 2 guitar parts, I take one of the two original tracks and record the second part on it.

    The result is that in mixing you get automatic panning of your parts when needed (from single track center mono to split L&R when there are 2 parts), and all of your levels are pre-set and balanced throughout the song.

    If you plan on doing it this from the beginning, you can save a lot of tracks and problems with the mix. I have been doing it this way for years.

    Another place it works great is backup vocals. Always record them on two tracks first (L&R), and then when you double use the second track. If you don't double some parts they will mix up in the center, when you do the double it will automatically switch to stereo.
     
  19. bluemt

    bluemt Guest

    I just mixed a rock record where the producer had up to 60 tracks on some tunes. I would have liked to have stripped down and muted more than I was able, but I had some success in convincing him that less is more. For example, on an intimate ballad the tune started off with a double tracked stereo acoustic guitar. Using one mono guitar sounded more intimate and better for this tune. the producer agreed - against his initial judgement. Big sounds aren't always good all the time. They work in contrast to smaller sounds. Sometimes layering is cool to create new sounds and it's a production technique that can be cool. Othertimes A nicely recorded part can do just fine.
     

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